The AbD Making Moves: A Thumbnail History and Introduction

What do the Agency by Design maker capacities look like in action, and what moves might we encourage to support the development of these capacities? Former Agency by Design Principal Investigator and Project Director Shari Tishman provides a brief history and introduction to the Agency by Design making moves and their related support materials.

Educators working with the AbD Oakland Fellowship engaged in early workshops to figure out what are the moves associated which each of the Agency by Design maker capacities.

If you’re familiar with any of the projects under the Agency by Design (AbD) umbrella, then you probably know about the three capacities that are part of the core AbD framework.  These capacities—looking closely, exploring complexity, and finding opportunity—were first articulated in what we’ve now come to call the AbD origin project. Through an extensive program of research, that project identified the capacities as the cognitive fundamentals of developing a sensitivity to design, which in turn underlie the development of a sense of maker empowerment. You can find out more about these ideas, and the research behind them, by visiting the AbD website and reading any of the literature associated with the project. This blog post leaps forward a few years and reviews some recent work we’ve done to develop classroom-friendly resources that describe and support specific learning behaviors associated with each capacity. The resources are meant to offer useful information about exactly what learners can do to enact the capacities of looking closely, exploring complexity, and finding opportunity. At the center of these resources is a list of making moves. In what follows, we give a brief history of how the current iteration of the making moves was developed, along with an overview of the moves and their related support materials.

Since its inception, the AbD project has worked closely with educators in Oakland, California. In the 2016-17 school year, we collaborated with the then-current group of Oakland educators—the Oakland Fellows—to advance our collective understanding of moves related to the maker capacities. Through a combination of workshops, discussions, and classroom experiences, the Oakland educators engaged with the three capacities in several ways: They designed lessons around them and tried them out in their classrooms; they reviewed materials the Project Zero-based AbD team developed and offered insightful feedback and critique, and they participated as learners and makers themselves in workshop activities designed to surface ideas about what the capacities looked like in action. Many people contributed to this work, and many great ideas were developed. Gabriela Talarico, a graduate student at Harvard Graduate School of Education, did an amazing job of organizing and sorting educators’ ideas, and eventually, Project Zero researcher Andrea Sachdeva and I took up the task of pulling together the fruits of this collaborative process into materials that could be useful to educators more widely.

We spent quite a few months creating lists, synthesizing and distilling ideas, iterating, seeking feedback, and iterating again.  Eventually, we came up with the following list of making moves. The moves are meant to suggest actions, so, as you read on, if you want to get a feel for how they work, choose a specific object or system to envision and imagine applying the moves to it.  If you decide to choose an object, consider choosing one that’s near, on, or around you that you can easily inspect—a chair, desk, shoe, or coffee cup. If you want to envision a system, consider a system you’ve recently participated in, like recycling, public transportation, playing music, or getting take-out food.

Using any and all of the senses to fully notice what’s there

  • Notice everything—Cast a wide net to capture all that you can observe
  • Revisit—Look/listen/touch again, and see if you can find something new

  • Use categories—Look for different kinds of features or components

  • Juxtapose—Look at things side by side; compare, observe relationships

  • Physically change perspectives—Look from high, low, far away, close up

Illustrating and exploring the multiple ways that things, ideas, and systems can be complex

  • Explore inner workings—Explore how things, ideas, and systems work—what are their parts and interactions
  • Explore points of view—Consider and take different perspectives: What different ways can you look at this?

  • Probe your own perspective—Examine your own assumptions and beliefs

  • Look back and forward—Explore the histories and possible futures: How did this come to be? Where might it be going?

  • Tinker to explore—Take things apart, put things together, play around with how things work

Envisioning designs, redesigns, and hacks

  • Envision—Imagine what could be invented, or how things could be changed

  • Reframe—Rethink, refocus, or re-define a problem, opportunity, or procedure; hack or repurpose how things work

  • Source resources—Be proactive and creative about finding information, advice, and instruction

  • Prototype and test—Make models and run tests; try things out to see what works.  

  • Make (and draw) plans—Identify steps; sketch what things could look like and how they could work; illustrate ideas, and processes.
Educators from the AbD Oakland Fellowship used design tags to surface ideas about what moves may support the development of the Agency by Design maker capacities.

A list is a dull thing until it’s put to work. So how can the list of making moves be useful? We hope in several ways. Perhaps most straightforwardly, it can be used as a resource for lesson design: if you want to help students develop any or all of the AbD capacities, the list of related making moves can suggest specific lesson activities. Also the list can be useful for suggesting language for talking about maker-centered learning—with students and with other educators and stakeholders. Relatedly, because the list suggests specific learning behaviors to look for, it can be helpful as a lens for documenting and assessing student work. You can find a full description of ways to use the making moves framed for teachers here, and framed for students here.

The AbD website also offers additional supporting materials for the making moves. For example, there is a set of observation sheets to help teachers document and assess student learning, and a related set of documentation templates students can use to help them document their own and each other’s learning. There is also a conversation-starter tool for students, called Tell Me More, that helps them develop sensitivity and build language related to the making moves.

During a workshop in Berkeley, CA, educators from the AbD Oakland Fellowship engaged in a series of making activities as their colleagues observed them at work—keen to notice what moves they engaged in as they explored the Agency by Design maker capacities.

Speaking of tools, there are, of course, the AbD thinking routines. You may be wondering how the making moves and thinking routines connect. Essentially, a thinking routine is a short sequence of moves, or variations on moves, that “move” learners along a path toward a particular understanding.  For instance, the oft-used Parts, Purposes, Complexities thinking routine moves learners toward an understanding of systems. Some AbD thinking routines combine moves from more than one capacity, such as the Parts, People, Interactions thinking routine, which blends moves from the Looking Closely and Exploring Complexity capacities. Other thinking routines drill down into the nuances of one move within a single capacity, such as the Think, Feel, Care thinking routine, which invites deep engagement with the explore points of view move from the Exploring Complexity capacity.

In fact, one can think of the making moves as a kind of master list from which to cobble together thinking routine-like experiences, and we have been delighted to discover that several educators are using them in this way. Indeed, one of the great honors of having worked on the AbD project is to see how educators take up AbD ideas and make them their own. To give just one example, the aforementioned group of educators from Oakland, California—the group that initially helped develop the making moves—has blossomed into AbD Oakland, a vibrant and self-sustaining organization whose mission is to redefine what learning looks like in schools through maker-centered learning. Other AbD innovations are underway in Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, and Hong Kong.  And, through Harvard Graduate School of Education’s online course, Thinking and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom, educators across the globe are tinkering with AbD ideas. Now, with the recent addition of the making moves resources to the AbD toolkit, we are excited anew to see how these innovations unfold.

This blog was published on January 17, 2019.
Authored by
Shari Tishman

Shari Tishman is a Principal Investigator on the Agency by Design project.